Raising chickens for meat can be a very cost-effective way to supply your family with food, and it can also be a great foundation for, or addition to, your small-scale farming business. There are a few key differences to know about when raising meat birds versus laying hens. There are specific meat bird breeds. Housing needs are slightly different; for example, meat birds don't need roosts, and you may want to pasture or day range them.
Get the full scoop: How to Raise Chickens for Meat
Training dogs on the farm requires a large investment of time and energy. You must be devoted to teaching your dogs commands, generalizing to different settings, and maintaining them by working them regularly. There are many uses for dogs on the farm: they can serve as livestock guardians, herd sheep or other animals, or simply provide personal protection from unwanted intruders. Many farmers also hunt and use dogs to retrieve waterfowl or flush game birds.
Training can take many forms. Electronic collars, when used correctly and judiciously, can be a positive addition to the toolbox. We have had great success working with our rather dominant dog with an e-collar and a professional trainer. The Sportdog 1225 is what we've used, and I've written a thorough review of it.
Baby salad greens are a great addition to your small farm. They're very popular with CSA shareholders, as salads are a staple in many households, and more tender and easier to prepare than entire heads of lettuce. As a farmer, you can use the cut-and-come-again method to have a continuous harvest from the same seed for much of the season.
Growing and washing baby salad greens can be a little challenging, as they require some special handling, but once you've got the infrastructure in place, they can be a great seller.
If you just got baby chicks this spring, they may be ready to branch out beyond the chick starter that you've been feeding them. There are lots of "extras" that chickens enjoy and some that even enhance their health. And you can feed them kitchen scraps -- they are like live compost machines! But be careful because some kitchen foods are not good for them, or can give their eggs an off taste. Learn about what's good and what's not, and whether you should supplement with grit, oyster shell, or cracked corn.
Finances, business licenses, business plans -- if you're starting a farm business, you might be wondering where to begin. And if you're starting the farm itself at the same time, you've got animals, crops, and equipment to think about. Or perhaps you need to start at ground zero: buying or leasing the right farm.
It can seem overwhelming. And spring is already well under way. I've assembled a couple of overviews for you, with links to deeper, more detailed information on each topic. Sometimes the big picture is what you need, and sometimes the details are where you need to focus. Enjoy!
If you're a beginning farmer, you may not be connected with all the possible sources of grants, loans, workshops, courses, and educational resources that are available to you. I've compiled a list of some places where you can get started. This isn't an exhaustive database, but it should get you connected with the people who can tell you about still more opportunities that may be specific to your geographic region. Remember that resources can come from public and private sources - private nonprofits, the US government, local, regional and state-level nonprofits or private organizations.
If you're thinking of adding a new species to your farm this year, consider sheep. They're docile, relatively small (compared to cows) and can be multi-purpose, yielding meat, wool, and even milk. (But, sheep produce far less milk than cows or goats, so milking sheep is not the best financial proposition. However, some amazing cheeses are made from sheep's milk: feta, pecorino, and ricotta, to name a few.)
Goats are another great choice for the farm. Prolific milk producers, you can also raise goats for meat - and there is a growing demand for this tasty, lean meat. You'll definitely want to have some serious fencing in place to keep the goats from, say, climbing on top of your car.
It's a good idea to begin feeding your bees as the spring arrives and temperatures begin to warm, but before the first flowers are blooming. You may need to continue to supplement even as the first flowers begin to bloom to ensure that your hive has enough to eat.
It's springtime -- time for the birds and the bees to make more birds and bees! If you have a broody hen, you may want to break her up, or you may choose to let her hatch a clutch of eggs naturally. We had the mother hen above hatch eleven live baby chicks last spring. It was really cool to watch the babies walk around under her, learn how to eat and drink by watching her, and learn how to forage -- really early -- by going foraging with mama. We found that hens do a lot more mothering than we imagined, and even the rooster would stand guard while they foraged, keeping them safe. It was pretty adorable.
What's more, it was easy for us as farmers. No fussing with thermometers and lights, because the chicks regulated their temperature easily by moving in and out from under the mother. No worries about pasting up or combating the stress of being shipped from a hatchery across the country and spending several days in a mail truck. These are definitely the healthiest chicks we've ever had.
Learn how to hatch chicks with your own roosters and hens! Yes, for this you do need a rooster. It's about all they're good for, unless you love three a.m. alarm clocks.
Okay, this isn't the prettiest coop out there, but it's functional and we built it ourselves. When we moved in to our farm, the right side of this coop was finished, and the left was open as a woodshed. When we expanded our flock and added meat birds, we walled in the left side, adding a door and a (matching!) window. We've also built a movable coop and rotated the girls onto new pasture every week or two during the spring, summer and fall, using electric fence around them to keep them safe from predators.
If you're building a coop this year, check out the resources I've put together:
- Before You Build or Buy a Coop
- Chicken Coop Requirements
- Predator Proof Your Coop
- Top 10 Tips for Building Your Own Chicken Coop
- Building a Movable Chicken Tractor Step by Step